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  • Writer's pictureJill Ball

Rev Anne Ilsley - Loss

Practical suggestions for those who are grieving, and for those who want to support anyone who has suffered a loss.


I'm so happy to introduce my beloved, older sister, who I always look to for advice and support. She was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 2003. She looks a bit like The Vicar of Dibley, but she's the real thing!

a photo of Rev Anne Ilsley, my sister

I would love to have her as my vicar and she has many years of experience of comforting families and individuals in their grief, as well as taking funerals and memorial services.


Personal Experiences of Grief

There are many kinds of losses, many kinds of grief.

In my white, middle-class, British culture we have little to help us to help those who grieve, beyond the funeral and the funeral tea.

The first most difficult grief for me was the death of my baby niece, when I was living a continent apart from my sister and family. Leaving England for New Zealand had brought one kind of grief, but when my niece died, unable to return for the funeral or take part in any meaningful way, I was comforted by friends and strangers in New Zealand.

Practical caring with a meal brought to the door, is what I remember from that time, as well as an ongoing aversion to hearing of another child being given the same name.

The first funeral of an infant I was involved with as a minister took me straight back to my own grief.

My grief after my father died was expressed in my feeling physically cold for about 6 months. I spent that winter wearing one particular thick jumper, enveloped in my sadness.

By contrast after my mother died I was angry as well as sad. Angry because I felt that she had accepted death too early, but this feeling was short lived.

She had lived a long full life and when the following year, my husband left after 36 years of marriage, I could only be grateful that my parents were not alive to see it.

Others who are Grieving

Grief can cause pushing and pulling away. In grief the rest of the world can look like a heartless place. ‘How can everyone be going about their lives when my loved one has died?’. The grieving person may want to hibernate, push others away.

The friend may pull away, uncertain as to what to say, or unable themselves to face someone else’s grief.

A formalised cultural process can help people here, in knowing what they should do.

My experience comes from personal limited life experience as well from my ministry as a priest in the Anglican Church.

So, what would I suggest?

To the bereaved

  • Praying may be impossible - this is the time to lean on the prayers of others

  • If you can’t accept help or a visit on one particular day, take a rain check if you can.

  • If you continue to say ‘no’ to people, they will stop offering*

  • You are likely to be surprised by the people who help you and by those who can’t

  • Be discerning about who you talk to

  • As a general rule, talk to those who you find helpful and life giving

  • Don't talk to those who you find draining

  • Professional help or a self-help group really can help

* This comes from a friend of mine

To those who want to help

  • Cards, flowers and a cooked meal on the doorstep are always appreciated

  • Don’t assume they have someone closer to them or better able to help them

  • Make suggestions but ultimately be led by the bereaved person as to the length of a visit and the type of activity you do together

  • Start with a short visit

  • Keep the bereaved person in your prayers and let them know that you pray for them (to say it once is probably enough)

  • Don’t ignore those prompts to call or visit the bereaved person - that prompt however unexpected, may well come from God and prove very timely

Grief is a many faceted thing. The emotions involved can be very complex depending on the relationships involved and in the timing and situation of the loss. We can none of us know how another person is feeling.

A Blessing

The Lord bless you and keep you:

The Lord make his face to shine upon you,

and be gracious to you:

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you,

and give you peace.

Numbers 6 v 24 RSV


Nunc Dimittis - Gustav Holst

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel
Luke 2 v 29 - 32 - Book of Common Prayer, 1662


pink roses that I painted in memory of my niece, Rosanna

My other sister, Sally, talks more about the loss of our little niece, Rosanna and gives helpful suggestions to those who are grieving and to anyone helping and supporting them.


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1 Comment

Jill Ball
Jill Ball
Jul 11, 2020

Thanks Anne, for sharing your experience of loss

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